75 years after D-Day when U.S. soldiers landed in Normandy, France, to liberate the country from German occupation, 12 U.S. marching bands traveled to the same region to commemorate their efforts. The ensembles participated in the D-Day Memorial Parade in the town of Sainte-Mère-Église as well as musical salutes at Normandy American Cemetery and Brittany American Cemetery in June 2019. Veterans were present at all three of the events.
Organized by Historic Programs, a not-for-profit based in Mesa, Arizona, that creates various tribute events, the D-Day Memorial Parade has existed since the 70th anniversary. The goal of this memorial is “to help commemorate the past and celebrate the future,” says Joel Biggs, executive director. This year’s event was “ramped up” to about three times the size as previous years, he adds.
The 2019 participating bands were:
- Burke County High Schools from Morganton, North Carolina
- Colony High School from Palmer, Alaska
- Desert Ridge High School from Mesa, Arizona
- Foothill High School from Henderson, Nevada
- Herndon (Virginia) High School
- Hillgrove High School from Powder Springs, Georgia
- Mountain Brook (Alabama) High School
- North Buncombe High School from Weaverville, North Carolina
- Oakville High School from St. Louis, Missouri
- Park City (Utah) High School
- Seminole High School from Sanford, Florida
- University of Texas Longhorn Alumni Band from Austin, Texas
The Longhorn Alumni Band played the French and U.S. national anthems to start each musical salute. The groups also performed as a mass band, ending with “Hymn to the Fallen.”
Biggs believes that the music makes this particular veteran salute stand out. “Music has this great unifying effect,” he says. “There’s an exchange there that’s difficult to describe.”
One Longhorn Alumni musician had an added distinction—performing “Taps” on a trumpet that belonged to a D-Day soldier. As the story goes, Richard Wank was hit and played dead after he landed in France on D-Day, protecting his trumpet beneath him. Many years later, Wank’s grandson Jeff brought the trumpet to a repair shop where Longhorn Alumni Band musician Kenny Bierschenk took his own horn. Through this fateful occurrence, Bierschenk was able to take the trumpet back to Normandy to play for fallen soldiers the way that Richard Wank had done during War War II.
“We were quite excited to be given this honor to have one of our members sound ‘Taps’” with this historic instrument, says Geof Sloan, president of the Longhorn Alumni Band.